The decision by Google to restrict access to the hugely offensive anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims” in parts of the Middle East has proved almost as controversial as the film itself.
Click here or on the map below to see our exclusive infographic mapping how the film has been taken offline across almost the entire Middle East.
In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the film was clearly in breach of local laws and therefore the decision to ban it was semi-automatic.
In Sudan and Iran the decision to block the film came as part of a wider attack on Youtube and Google.
But in other countries — such as Egypt and Libya where demonstrations first broke out — the decision was made by Google after specific requests.
The company said the “very difficult situation” in those countries had led to the decision to “temporarily” restrict access.
The decisions have caused some free speech campaigners to worry about the precedent being set.
Jillian York, the Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, thinks the decision is a dangerous one.
She points out that the company had received no legal demand to remove the film, and YouTube itself said it did not violate its own rules.
“Had Google received a court order, I would be more understanding of their position — then the blame would be on the court, the government. But because Google made a decision for an entire nation, that’s scary,” she said.
York also blasted the company’s apparent disregard for the opinions of Egyptian civil liberties advocates, saying the company’s decision “ignored that fight and ignored their voices on the matter, instead attempting to determine what’s ‘best’ for Egypt.”
“The biggest long-term issue is that these companies — Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — have become the ‘virtual public square,’ but remain private companies with the right to make whatever decisions they want about content,” she added.”